Steve Sheehan knows what it is like to be on the wrong end of a strategy call, but Tuesday night at Richmond International Raceway, it was Sheehan who outsmarted everyone en route to win Round Six of the 2012 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship. The veteran sim racer stayed out on old tires under a late race yellow when nearly every other car pitted, giving him a lead he held to the finish ahead of John Gorlinsky, Nick Ottinger and Josh Berry.
Sheehan first took the lead on Lap 144 of 200, but it was the decision not to pit with the rest of the field on Lap 168 that put him in position to win. Alex Warren, Joshua Laughton and Florian Godard tried the same strategy, but were unable to defend their positions from Gorlinsky, Ottinger, Berry and others on fresh rubber.
Sheehan had the luxury of being the leader, which meant he dictated the pace on several restarts, allowing him to build a cushion over the drivers with new tires.
“The longer we went, the closer our tires got, and the more competitive my car got.” — Steve Sheehan
“I think three others stayed out so I needed them to pile-up . . . or I needed more yellows,” said Sheehan. “We got a quick yellow but John (Gorlinsky) was right there. We got a couple more short dashes as per usual, and it took all I had to hold on. But the longer we went, the closer our tires got, and the more competitive my car got.”
The series of quick cautions which helped Sheehan’s old tires cool down, also took out many of the top contenders. Points leader and defending series champion Ray Alfalla was one such victim. Alfalla was running fifth trying to pass the slower cars on old tires when Godard had to get out of the gas a bit coming out of Turn Four. In the resulting stack-up, Alfalla made hard contact with the outside wall that left him in 30th spot, 14 laps behind, at the finish.
Ottinger was another strong contender all night. He claimed his fourth pole position of the season and ran in the top five most of the race but just did not have the long run speed of Sheehan, Alfalla and Gorlinsky, who were clearly the class of the field. Although Ottinger led the late chase of Sheehan, Gorlinsky got the better of him with ten laps remaining to claim the runner-up spot. Likewise, Berry grabbed third spot from Tyler Hudson with just ten laps remaining and finished less than a second behind the victorious Sheehan.
Alfalla remains the championship leader despite his poor finish. However, his lead has been trimmed to only two points over Michael Conti, who also had a disappointing result, coming home twenty-fourth. Brian Schoenburg had an up-and-down night before coming home thirteenth and remains third in the standings, now eight points out of the lead. Farther back in fourth and fifth stand Hudson and Ottinger.
Next week, the series visits the track that most would consider the toughest out there: Darlington Raceway. “The Track Too Tough to Tame” has claimed its fair share of virtual race cars over the past two seasons of the NiSWC, and this year’s race promises more of the same. Veterans such as Sheehan, Alfalla and Brad Davies are drivers to watch, though last year rookie driver Brad Wright held-off Davies for a surprise win.
Alfalla needs a rebound at Darlington to keep the points lead, but his momentum might be stalled after a tough result at Richmond. If anyone has anything for the defending champ, next week is the time to let it all hang out.